Boone County clerk awarded grant to improve voting system for overseas Americans

Thursday, December 15, 2011 | 6:38 p.m. CST; updated 7:12 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 15, 2011

COLUMBIA — Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren described the reports she gets from overseas American citizens trying to vote in Missouri elections as "horror stories."

In a press conference at the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center on Thursday morning, she announced she was awarded a $740,000 federal grant to collaborate with MU and the Missouri secretary of state to develop a new voting system that utilizes the Internet and mobile technology for overseas voters to eliminate some of their problems.

According to a press release, studies have found that more than 30 percent of the nation’s military and overseas voters had difficulty voting in the 2008 presidential election. Noren said 366,102 overseas ballots nationwide failed to be counted in 2008.

Noren said in some previous elections, absentee ballots were still coming in more than five days after the election had concluded.

“We hear stories about people driving 800 miles or having to bribe foreign officials to let them vote,” Noren said. “The problems people face overseas are just amazing.”

She described the traditional voting method in use today as having many major issues. She said at times, it takes weeks or months for voters to receive, fill out and send back ballots.

Other major obstacles include the distance from where voting stations were located, as well as the inability to deliver ballots to certain places, such as submarines.

Noren will collaborate with the secretary of state as well as researchers from MU's College of Engineering and Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan was not in attendance at the press conference Thursday, but she showed her support for the initiative in a press release. 

“I look forward to working with the partners in this project to ensure all Missouri soldiers and others living overseas are guaranteed a chance to make their voices heard in our elections,” Carnahan said. “We have a real chance to create something that can be a model for election officials all across our state as they work to increase efficiencies for military and overseas voters.”

Noren said creating a program that can allow overseas voters to request, receive and print absentee ballots online will reduce the amount of time it takes for the mail service to run its course, possibly by up to two to three weeks.

Currently, Noren said, ballots cost between $5 and $6 to process, but the aim of the research is to reduce that cost to about 10 to 15 cents per ballot.

“This is the most exciting thing I’ve been able to do in the 33 years I’ve been here,” Noren said. “I believe in this. We hope this becomes a project people across the state and in other states can use as guide for creating their own programs." 

Noren said she expects to see real progress made in the next couple of years. The grant will fund the initiative until 2016.

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